So, Liberal Alliance left (or, depending on your point of view, were excluded from) the negotiations about the 2011 budget and the signs are that the government will pass the budget with the support of DF (expected) and the single Christian Democrat MP Per Ørum Jørgensen.
The thing is that I had predicted that LA would be the likely fourth partner in the budget agreement so the question now is where I made the wrong judgement.1
Just to recapitulate the point of departure: Since the election in 2001, budgets have been passed with the support of the governing Liberal and Conservative parties in cooperation with the Danish People’s Party while other parties have entered agreements about parts of the budget. A quirk in Danish parliamentary norms means that most parties will vote for the budget bill at the final reading even if they do not support the bill or have entered a comprehensive agreement, but the opposition will still use the final vote as a potential test of the government’s parliamentary basis so if a government wants to be certain of its survival, it is well-advised to seek an agreement before the vote.2
With regard to fiscal policy, the limits for the 2011 budget have been set by the economic agreement from May 2010 so there is little or no room for any major substantial initiatives.
A series of defections since the 2007 election has meant that the government at the start of the 2010-2011 parliamentary year was one seat short of a majority in the Folketing with DF and consequently that it needed to add at least a fourth partner in the 2011 budget. We could easily discount a number of parties: The Red-Greens, SF, the Social Democrats and the Social Liberals, which left the government with the choice between Liberal Alliance, Christian H. Hansen, Per Ørum Jørgensen and Pia Christmas-Møller.
In political terms, Christmas-Møller and Ørum Jørgensen are dead MPs walking. Both left the Conservatives in anger (even if the exact motives behind Ørum Jørgensen’s defection still have to be revealed) and neither have a realistic chance of being re-elected in the coming election – Christmas-Møller has never joined a new party and the Christian Democrats are stuck well below the 2 percent threshold.3 The former DF MP Christian H. Hansen also belongs to the category of dead MPs walking with his new party “Fokus” having disappeared from the public arena just as soon as its formation was announced. We should also note that neither Christmas-Møller nor Hansen have been discussed in relation to the present round of negotiations and that leaves LA and Ørum Jørgensen.
My idea was that despite some major policy differences between the Liberals and DF on the one hand and LA on the other, both the government and LA would have an interest in reaching some kind of agreement. LA has pledged its support for Lars Løkke Rasmussen after the elected and it would look strange if the party first voted down the government only to support it in the following election campaign. On the other hand, this also meant that LA’s freedom of action was severely circumscribed.
At the same time, opinion polls have increasingly indicated that some kind of cooperation with LA would be the only realistic option for the government (and DF) if it wanted to continue in office after the election. A situation with major defeats for the Liberals and the Conservatives and a victorious but antagonised LA would be very complicated indeed. On the other hand, prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is known for his brinkmanship in political negotiations.
The level of dissociation between Ørum Jørgensen and his former party has been difficult to gauge. Indications are that he left before he could be thrown out even if he also cited disagreements with the government over regional policies in his Mid-Jutland constituency as a motive for his defection. Ørum Jørgensen’s interest in saving the government ought to be very limited. On the other hand, the Christian Democrats desperately could use any (positive) publicity the party can get in the run-up to the election and the party is closer than LA to DF in tax and regional policies. The Christian Democrats have also called for an examination of “Danish values”, something which with a bit of ingenuity from the side of the government could be combined with DF’s calls for an anti-immigration policy commission.
So, to sum up: With LA out of the picture, the likely outcome is an agreement between the government, DF and Per Ørum Jørgensen where the government pays for the support with some minor initiatives in social and regional policy as well as tighter immigration and integration policies (the old joke about the Ministry of Integration really being the Ministry of Extraditions is remembered) and a “values and integration commission” thrown in for good measure.
But as I said: I s**k at making predictions.
Update: Inexcusable typo corrected in the title (though not the URL). But then I have the mother of all colds.